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Intelligence In War: Knowledge of the Enemy…

Intelligence In War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda (original: 2003; edição: 2004)

de John Keegan (Autor)

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9081718,061 (3.47)3
"In this magisterial new study, which will fascinate readers of both military and more general history, the author of A History of Warfare goes to the heart of a series of important conflicts to develop a powerful argument about intelligence in war. From the Napoleonic Wars to the sophisticated electronic warfare of the twenty-first century, John Keegan finds linking themes which lead to a compelling conclusion."--BOOK JACKET.… (mais)
Título:Intelligence In War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda
Autores:John Keegan (Autor)
Informação:Pimlico (2004), Edition: Re-issue, 464 pages
Coleções:J's Reads

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Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda de John Keegan (2003)


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I generally like John Keegan's histories - and the straight history portion of this is no exception - but when it comes to situating the role of intelligence in war, Keegan seems to miss the boat on its utility and indeed, its intended purpose.

The dominant thesis throughout this book is that intelligence is useful and important to military commanders, but that at the end of the day it wins neither battles nor wars. Which is not untrue; however, that would seem to be a straw man argument that few would defend. The point is not that intelligence is a substitute for combat prowess, the will to fight, or more precise and/or deadly munitions; rather, intelligence is a combat enabler or multiplier, a discipline that can enhance the odds of victory or allow one force to avoid giving battle altogether.

Nelson took longer than he might have to locate the French fleet in the Mediterranean because of intelligence lapses, but it was also almost entirely owing to intelligence that he was able to track it to Egypt and give battle at all. Stonewall Jackson's reliance on local knowledge and the geography of the Shenendoah Valley allowed to to harass and outmaneuver the pursuing Union forces without being forced to stand and fight, which may have been the only thing standing between the Army of the Valley and utter destruction.

Intelligence matters in peacetime and in war, and is not an optional discipline that a commander can make do without. Tactical and operational knowledge is a standard for which J2s and S2s alike strive, and are what has led the United States to make great strides in battlefield awareness, information dominance, and other ISR platforms and doctrines. If any cliché is, in fact, an accurate one, it would be that while intelligence may not win wars, it sure can lose them.

Keegan's epilogue, written during the run-up to the Iraq War in late 2002, holds up especially poorly. The Central Intelligence Agency's tradecraft primer, for instance, highlights the unquestioned assumption that the Hussein regime's refusal to permit international inspectors full access to Iraq's WMD facility was because of duplicity and Iraqi noncompliance. This was a true failure to consider competing hypotheses, such as the fact that a full international confirmation that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction might thus reduce the country's - and thus Hussein's - standing throughout the region and the Arab world. This was an intelligence failure, but it doesn't follow that because of this, intelligence was useless in anything but a tactical or operational role during the Iraq War.

Keegan decries the merging of covert action and intelligence-gathering in a single agency (in the case of the United States, the CIA), as he blame's Churchill's SOE orders to "set Europe ablaze" for the incorporation of Yugoslavia into the Soviet bloc, as well as the near-miss with Greece. These two functions, he posits, are best kept separated, not least because covert action is doomed to failure and intelligence is a noble, if self-justifying, pursuit. But it was, in fact, insurgency that doomed US efforts in Iraq, and given the "gray" and "hybrid" wars of 2008 and beyond, it is clear that intelligence and covert action are not only enablers for the coming wars, but will in fact comprise much of their operations in the future.

Throughout his career, Keegan believed in - and advocated for - the supremacy of the fighting man above all other factors. Intelligence, technology, infrastructure - as important as these might be, even the finest incarnations of them could lead to defeat, and an average private prove victorious given enough training and talent. But as the era of interstate conflict draws not to a close, per se, but to a new chapter, the importance and role of intelligence in war will only continue to grow in importance. Hopefully, so too in reliability. ( )
  goliathonline | Jul 7, 2020 |
From the earliest times, commanders have sought knowledge of the enemy, his strengths and weaknesses, his dispositions and intentions. But how much effect, in the 'real time' of a battle or a campaign, can this knowledge have?
In this magisterial new study, the author of A History of Warfare goes to the heart of a series of important conflicts to develop a powerful argument about intelligence in war. Keegan's narrative sweep is enthralling, whether portraying the dilemmas of Nelson seeking Napoleon's fleet, Stonewall Jackson in the American Civil War, Bletchley as it seeks to crack Ultra during the Battle of the Atlantic, the realities of the secret war in the Falklands or the numerous intelligence issues in the contemporary fight against terrorism.
  MasseyLibrary | Jun 20, 2020 |
Se le nota el british centrismo y algo de elitismo en sus argumentos. Repasa una serie de campañas y analiza la importancia de la información en ellas. Llega a la conclusión de que el Will de combate es lo fundamental. ( )
  gneoflavio | Oct 26, 2017 |
An average book filled with tibits of information. The book is categorized as military history. I'm glad to have read it since Keegan is a smooth writer so it was easy to follow where he was meandering about. Several chapters I just ignored since they were overly complex and confusing for my taste. I rarely do this to a book's author but I felt I needed to devote mt time to other more famiiar sections where I could judge accurately the worth of his opinions. Keegan's opinion thus are not mine nor the logical steps for how he arrives at them. In the Introduction, he alludes to having met Kim Philby. He doesn't mention his name explicitly but that's who he is talking about. He speaks of him positively as if that is his entry to the world of intelligence machinations. Philby was a traitor and had many agents personally killed. So Keegan takes his position on intelligence from the Intelligence community and how they operate. This is an involved subject with many aspects of organizational charting. The book is valuable in that sense as it shows who consumes intelligence and by whom it is produced. There are obviously competing governmental organs who gain or lose supremacy in this struggle. Keegan sees the intelligence community as legitimate actors in the quest for secret leverage among the political decision makers.
The chapter on The Battle of Midway gave me some new historical insights on the battle though I disagree with his conclusions. The sections on German U-boats and German rocket technology were also interesting. Like in most chapters, Keegan downplays British failures to capitalize on the intellgence they achieved and says it never changed the inevitable outcome of the wars. Keegan adopts the Intelligence "expert" point of view by categorizing the secret intelligence as numeric and mathematical and therefore objective, which of course it is not. Intelligence is always weighted on the way it exists and the manner in which is was obtained. How it is interpreted is also an element of its subjective value. Keegan says that Churchill formed the modern military special forces contingent through his WWII (SOE) Special Operations Executive. This is a British point of View as US Special Forces trace their own origins back to the French and Indian War (1754-1763) and before.
This is a book which introduces the reader to mapmaking, espionage, ciphers, double agents and photographic and digital surveillance as well as aircraft and naval warfare systems and counter measures. Another priest said the writing style is "very dry." This is true, and I might add, boring at times but this is more of compendium of information than a history of intelligence in warfare. AntiAmerican bias in the writing, but once that is acknowledged and established, you're free to sail.
  sacredheart25 | Oct 9, 2017 |
Written shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and so a bit tentative on al-Quaeda and developments in Iraq. Otherwise quite good.

Keegan starts with anecdotes, mostly about his occasional brushes with (more or less) friendly intelligence organizations. including the first female head of MI6 (England isn't what it used to be) and the CIA (in the person of William Casey, who invited him for a secret interview simply because he liked Keegan's books, but who Keegan found quite unintelligible -- he later learned Casey's colleagues called him The Mumbler.) Keegan also recounts an attempt at recruitment that he refused to touch with a ten-foot pole.

Keegan is skeptical of intelligence, particularly when it gets confused with subversion. To be more precise, he does not think much of subversion; he thinks much better of intelligence, which he believes can be an honorable activity, but points out that good intelligence accomplishes a lot less than some folks suppose. You still need the mailed fist.

His case studies are interesting. The first is the pursuit by Nelson of the French expedition to Egypt. Nelson got caught in a terrible storm, lost touch with his frigates -- the scouting ships of the age of sail -- astutely guessed that Napoleon was headed east, double back on Sicily after Napoleon seized Malta, raced east agaIn and managed to reach Alexandria before Napoleon, wondered if Turkey might be the target, contacted British diplomats who sent him back to Egypt, caught Napoleon's fleet and destroyed it. Not, however, before Napoleon's army was ashore, so while Nelson saved India, Napoleon still caused a lot of mischief. And history would have been quite different if Napoleon's 30,000 troops had been intercepted at sea in their transports, guarded by the weaker French fleet.

The second case study is Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. Here the crucial intelligence was decent maps, and only Jackson had them. The U.S. was surprisingly poorly mapped in the 1860s, even in the East; the Army had concerned itself mostly with coastal mapping. Jackson took advantage of the much superior knowledge of the terrain given him by local mapmakers to keep the Union forces guessing. But, at that, he was nearly caught; intelligence is not a sure key to victory after all.

Wireless intelligence gets a good share of the book, beginning with the Emden and Scharnhorst's forces in the First World War, continuing with Crete and Midway, and concluding with the Battle of the Atlantic. The British knew more or less just what was going to hit them at Crete but lost anyway; the intelligence was just confused enough that Freyberg guarded against a sea landing that was not, in fact, much of a threat, and didn't quite hold onto Maleme airfield. At that, the Germans won only through sheer recklessness that meant massive casualties among some of their best troops. Midway is the quintessential intelligence victory; yet it could easily have gone hte other way. Keegan makes the provocative suggestion that intelligence actually delayed victory in the Battle of the Atlantic by keeping the British from coming to grips with the U-boats, and defeating them, earlier. He points out that careful statistical analysis shows, not only that the British never came anywhere as close to being starved out as in the First World War, but were never really in any danger of being starved out at all. Huh.

There is a fascinating discussion of the wealth of human intelligence that tipped the British off to the V-program -- and the great reluctance to believe the V-2 was for real. Fortunately for Britain; the V-1 was a surprisingly cheap and effective weapon, and the diversion of so much resources to the expensive and relatively ineffective V-2 was all to the benefit of the British.

Keegan thinks SOE was a bad idea all around, being based on Churchill's experience with guerrilla wars in the Empire that simply wasn't applicable in Europe under the Nazis. I think he convinced me.

al-Quaeda: Intelligence alone ain't gonna win that war. And we're really bad at that kind of intelligence. Well, it's interesting this was already clear to Keegan in 2003.

Two thumbs up.


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"In this magisterial new study, which will fascinate readers of both military and more general history, the author of A History of Warfare goes to the heart of a series of important conflicts to develop a powerful argument about intelligence in war. From the Napoleonic Wars to the sophisticated electronic warfare of the twenty-first century, John Keegan finds linking themes which lead to a compelling conclusion."--BOOK JACKET.

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